Sarkozy Wins, Vows to Restore Pride in France

By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 7, 2007

PARIS, May 6 -- Nicolas Sarkozy, the combative son of a Hungarian immigrant, was elected president of France on Sunday, promising a new generation of leadership to transform the country, restore its self-respect and reinvigorate ties with the United States and Europe.

Sarkozy, a member of the ruling party and France's former top law enforcement officer, defeated Socialist Segolene Royal, who waged a determined battle to become France's first elected female head of state, by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote, according to final results. Voter turnout was a near-record 84 percent.

In a victory speech before a jubilant crowd of supporters in Paris, Sarkozy said voters "have chosen to break with the habits and behavior of the past." He pledged "to give greater value to work, to authority, to respect, to merit."

"I want to give French people back the pride of being French -- to finish with repentance, which is a form of self-hate," he said, renouncing a pervasive national malaise fed by economic decline at home and sinking influence abroad.

An unabashed admirer of America, Sarkozy, 52, had a special message for the United States, which has had troubled relations with France under President Jacques Chirac, who led international opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq.

"I'd like to appeal to our American friends to say that they can count on our friendship," he said. "But I would also like to say that friendship means accepting that your friends don't necessarily see eye to eye with you."

In particular, he said, "a great nation like the United States has the duty not to oppose the fight against global warming, but to lead that battle, because what is at stake is the destiny of mankind." Sarkozy said he would make the issue a top international priority as president.

His election signals a shift to the right in French politics and could herald a major transition for French society. Sarkozy has promised to boost economic growth and employment by cutting taxes, reducing deficits, shrinking government and loosening labor laws -- the kind of free-market policies embraced by the United States and Britain, but long eschewed by French leaders.

In selecting the passionate, pragmatic and pugnacious Sarkozy, who is a lawyer by training, voters rejected Royal's prescription of continuing big spending programs to protect and expand France's vast social welfare state.

"I wish the next president of the republic the best in accomplishing his mission in the service of all the French people," Royal, 53, said in a brief concession speech delivered to supporters just minutes after voting places closed and exit polls made clear how badly she had fared.

She acknowledged disarray in the Socialist Party, which some analysts say is now in danger of splitting or disintegrating. "You can count on me to continue renovating the left," she said. "That is the precondition for us having a future."

Sarkozy, who takes office May 16, has promised tough law-and-order measures and tighter immigration controls that many opponents fear could alienate the country's underclasses and fuel social tensions. Opinion polls throughout the election showed that large numbers of voters were concerned that Sarkozy had an authoritarian streak that could fracture French society.

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